The ecological significance of the herbaceous layer in temperate forest ecosystems

TitleThe ecological significance of the herbaceous layer in temperate forest ecosystems
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2007
AuthorsGilliam F.S.
Pagination845 - 858
Date Published11/2007
Type of ArticleReview
Keywordsbiodiversity, Forest ecology, Herbaceous-layer dynamics, Vegetation science
TagsBiodiversity, forest ecology, Herbaceous-layer dynamics, Vegetation science

Despite a growing awareness that the herbaceous layer serves a special role in maintaining the structure and function of forests, this stratum remains an underappreciated aspect of forest ecosystems. In this article I review and synthesize information concerning the herb layer's structure, composition, and dynamics to emphasize its role as an integral component of forest ecosystems. Because species diversity is highest in the herb layer among all forest strata, forest biodiversity is largely a function of the herb-layer community. Competitive interactions within the herb layer can determine the initial success of plants occupying higher strata, including the regeneration of dominant overstory tree species. Furthermore, the herb layer and the overstory can become linked through parallel responses to similar environmental gradients. These relationships between strata vary both spatially and temporally. Because the herb layer responds sensitively to disturbance across broad spatial and temporal scales, its dynamics can provide important information regarding the site characteristics of forests, including patterns of past land-use practices. Thus, the herb layer has a significance that belies its diminutive stature.

Biodiversity at the species level, often combining aspects of species richness, their relative abundance, and their dissimilarity (MA, 2005). Species diversity is a function of the number of species and the evenness in the abundance of the component species. (Kindt et al. 2006)
a woody perennial plant, typically large and with a well-defined stem or stems carrying a more or less definite crown — note sometimes defined as attaining a minimum diameter of 5 in (12.7 cm) and a minimum height of 15 ft (4.6 m) at maturity, with no branches within 3 ft (1 m) of the ground.

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